Yesterday, we talked about Chinese postpartum recovery beliefs and practices featuring a Daddy Spotlight with Allan Liu of Liu Mama. Today, I wanted to continue on the series by looking at Korean postpartum traditions.
Korean postpartum recovery rituals are called samchilil, which literally means 21 days. Koreans believe that a new mother should be looked after carefully for at least 21 days following childbirth before returning to her normal day-to-day. Very similar to Chinese beliefs and practices, Korean postpartum recovery rituals are very focused on the mother after birth to ensure recovery and there is a strong emphasis on hot vs. cold.
To talk more about this today, I wanted to share a Q&A with a Korean supermom, Kim Uldricks, who recently went through taking care of her eldest daughter, Jen, after going through labor. Jen had her first born, Eoghan (pronounced “Owen”), 10 months ago, and I am sure you would all agree with me that he is too precious for words!!
In addition to sharing thoughts from Kim, I wanted to also include feedback from Jen herself after going through this, so keep reading to the end for more!
Can you share what you know about samchilil?
I didn’t know it was called this until this conversation, I just knew it’s what we do! We believe that the mother should be looked after for an extended period of time after giving birth, and for how long exactly depends mostly on the family and their circumstances. At least 21 days is good. Some cannot afford to spend that much time taking care of them, but most would agree that 30 days is even better, and even up to 100 days if possible. It’s also worth noting that the 100 day celebration of a baby’s life is very important in Korean culture, and taking care of both mom and baby until that point is a top priority.
What are the basic premises of Samchilil?
The priority here is to look carefully after the mother after she gives birth, limiting activity as much as possible. This helps the mother’s body heal from giving birth, such as helping the uterus go back to its normal size and help the pelvis go back and heal.
It’s hard on a new mother, being up all night feeding the baby and keeping him from crying. Her focus is on the baby, so it’s important that someone focuses on mom.
It’s additionally important to keep her body warm, especially her feet.
KEY TIP: Wear thick clothing and socks.
No cold or hard foods, especially ice, because the gums are tender and will prevent problems with the teeth later.
Miyuk-kuk is the traditional meal we serve all new mothers.
Older traditions also say not to shower, but I don’t think many people do that anymore.
Can you talk more about miyuk-kuk – how it’s prepared and what its uses are?
Miyuk-kuk is the traditional day of birth soup and is prepared for new mothers during samchilil. It is also the traditional birthday soup for this reason.
The main ingredients are seaweed (miyuk), meat if you want (generally beef or chicken), garlic, salt, and pepper. I like to use some Hondashi too to make it tastier. It is easy to make.
- Soak dried miyuk in cold water for 30 minutes or more and be sure to wash it well.
- Work around with your fingers to make sure there is no sand or salt residue. Drain well, cut into pieces.
- Sauté bite-sized beef in a tablespoon of sesame oil until it is halfway done. Then add miyuk, and hondashi.
- Sauté until bubbling and then add water.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a hard boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes to bring out the good broth flavor.
- And then enjoy with a little rice or eat it plain as it is.
We make this dish because:
- It helps to cleanse the mom’s body, clarify the blood, help with circulation.
- Helps with rehydration.
- Helps to produce milk, and also milk that is nutritious for baby.
- It helps to replenish important nutrients like protein, iron, and calcium – it is very healthy and also low in fat.
- It is both hot and soft (no crunchy or cold foods) and helps to keep mom warm.
New mothers are told to eat it at least 2-3 times a day for at least 21 days.
KEY TIP: Eat it as much as you can!
Is it the mother-in-law who helps or the mother?
That depends on who you talk to. In old Korea, wives would go live with their husband’s family, so some say that the mother-in-law would take care of her. Others would say that the mother-in-law would help take care of the baby, and that the mother would take care of mom. Or sometimes, if they didn’t have the resources, they would send her back to her family during this time. I think anyone who loves the mom and baby should help take care of them
What did you do for Jen and for how long?
I did not stay at Jen’s house, but I went to see her as many days as I could to help her until Eoghan was about four months old. I cooked anything she wanted, helped with laundry, looked after her and the baby, and helped her in any way I could, as much as I could. I did whatever, even if that meant just giving her time to take a nap.
Did you stick to the traditional practice or did you do anything special of your own?
Jen needed more variety in her soups, so I made miyuk-kuk, which she ate a lot of, but couldn’t eat all the time. I also made her oxtail soup with turnips. She enjoyed that one too, and it also has the health benefits of bone marrow that helps to make good milk! It is a food that benefits both the mom and baby so an added bonus there. I also boiled down beef bones and marrow bones to make a basic stock for any other kind of soup she might want. I made large batches, so I could whip up any kind of soup at any given time.
Where did you learn all this? If an expecting mom is interested in understanding the Korean practices for postpartum recovery, where do you recommend she get her information?
Just over the years I learned from my family and friends about what to do and how to take care of a new mom and baby, and raised two of my own! My mom wasn’t able to help me so I want to help my children as much as possible, for as long as I can. If a new mom wants to learn more, she can talk to a Korean mom or woman. I think there’s probably a lot on the internet too!
What did you do as a part of the Korean postpartum rituals?
I didn’t do all of the postpartum rituals, and those that I did, I only did in moderation. My mom made me miyuk-kuk, but I couldn’t eat only that three times a day for weeks. Eventually she started making me different types of soups that fulfilled the same purpose. I ate it as much as I could, but then needed some more variety. I didn’t stay in bed, but I did limit activity, especially because I was recovering from a C-section. I stayed close to home for the first eight weeks or so and limited my activity as much as I could to let my body heal. I also tried to keep as warm as I could and ate warm, soft foods. My mom came over a few times a week to help with meals, laundry, or to give me a chance to rest.
I also incorporated other non-western postpartum rituals like acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and placenta pills.
Did you do these because of your mom or did you really want to do this yourself?
It was a combination of both. There wasn’t much question or discussion about whether or not my mom would be cooking for me and helping me in the early months. We just had to decide how much!
How was the experience for you?
It was so helpful to have my mom’s help with cooking, etc. so I could spend the time healing and getting to know Eoghan. It was a bit of an adjustment at first, being already hormonal and having someone that wanted to offer advice on everything. But once we established some boundaries and a routine, it worked out really well. The food was delicious and nutritious, not to mention my favorite comfort foods from growing up. It was also just such a relief that I didn’t have to worry about cooking at all. And once I learned what I needed and what to ask for in terms of help, it was really great. And, my mom really wanted to be helpful so it was a win-win!
KEY TIP: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need outright. People are there to help, and it’s easier if you can be clear on what it is! (This applies to communicating with new dads too!)
Would you recommend it? What could have made it better?
Absolutely! I would recommend that anyone interested should look into different rituals and traditions that suit their lifestyle. I found the combination of things I did went really well, and helped me with postpartum. One thing I think would have made it better is if I had known earlier what I needed and what to ask for so I could have attended more baby and me classes earlier than I actually did.
Are you considering any postpartum rituals?
[miyuk-guk photo from PromotingKorea]